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Archive for March, 2012

Obama 2012 defends, touts health care reform

As the Affordable Care Act‘s second anniversary looms this week, the war of words over its worth is becoming deafening. It’s a fascinating phenomenon, in that both sides truly seem to believe they have a winning issue here.

Here in Oakland, Democratic activist Christine Pelosi of San Francisco – daughter of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi – and Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson rallied about 30 volunteers today at the campaign headquarters on Telegraph Avenue, briefing them on the reform law’s effects to prepare them for an afternoon of phone-banking.

Christine Pelosi @ OFA HQ 3-19-12Just as Medicare and Social Security were “an intergenerational compact,” so too is health care reform “a societal compact” from a president who believes “health care is a right, not a privilege,” Pelosi said.

By forcing insurers to spend most of their premiums revenue on health care, not administration; by requiring them to insure people with pre-existing conditions; by reducing prescription costs for seniors; and by advancing patients’ rights, including the right to wellness visits, the law has improved the lives of millions of Americans, she said.

As the U.S. Supreme Court takes up the question of its constitutionality and as Republicans run on platforms of repeal, “our response has to be, ‘we’re not going back,’” Pelosi told the volunteers. “And each of you is taking personal responsibility to make sure that we’re going forward.”

Carson noted about 356,000 young adults in California – out of 2.5 million nationwide – have benefitted from the reform law by being allowed to remain on their parents’ health insurance until age 26. Almost an equal number of Californians on Medicare got a $250 rebate in 2010 to help cover the cost of their prescriptions when they hit the “donut hole” in their coverage, and almost 320,000 got a 50 percent discount in 2011 on their covered, brand-name prescriptions when they hit the donut hole; the law will close the hole by 2020.

Carson also said 12 million Californians no longer need worry about lifetime limits on their coverage; almost 3 million Californians on Medicare received free preventative services (such as mammograms and colonoscopies) or a free wellness visit with their doctor last year; and almost 6.2 million Californians with private insurance gained preventative service coverage with no cost-sharing.

He told the campaign volunteers that this is what they must convey to the people they call, in order to ensure they’re not swayed by “those who are critical, those who are fearful, those who are financed by the insurance companies.”

Lots more, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Monday, March 19th, 2012
Under: 2012 presidential election, healthcare reform, Oakland, Obama presidency | 1 Comment »

How transparent is California’s government?

Lest my story yesterday about California’s disgraced politicians cast our state government as one big den of iniquity, a new study by government watchdog groups ranks California fourth in the nation for transparency, accountability and anti-corruption mechanisms.

The report by the Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International and Global Integrity didn’t award any “A” grades, but five states got a B grade, 19 got Cs, 18 got Ds and eight received an F for epic Fail.

The groups concluded the top five most transparent and accountable states are New Jersey B+(87); Connecticut B(86); Washington B-(83); California B-(81); and Nebraska B-(80). North Dakota, Michigan, South Carolina, Maine, Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota and Georgia got Fs.

Reporters in each state researched 330 “corruption risk indicators” across 14 categories of government: access to information, campaign finance, executive accountability, legislative accountability, judicial accountability, budgeting, civil service management, procurement, internal auditing, lobbying disclosure, pension fund management, ethics enforcement, insurance commissions, and redistricting. The methodology was designed by Global Integrity, a nonprofit that measures and promotes transparency and accountability in more than 100 countries around the world.

But don’t get cocky – another watchdog issued a report last week giving California only a D- in transparency, at least as it pertains to online access to government spending data.

The California Public Interest Research Group (CalPIRG) third annual report is based on feedback from officials in 47 states regarding their initial evaluation of state transparency websites. This year’s report found that 46 states now provide an online database of government expenditures with “checkbook-level” detail, up from 32 states two years ago; 29 state transparency websites now provide information on government expenditures through tax code deductions, exemptions and credits, up from eight states two years ago. Texas, Kentucky, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, West Virginia and Arizona got the highest marks.

“At a time when anyone with a smart phone can summon a satellite image of the capitol building in seconds, we should be able to see what’s happening inside the building just as easily,” said Pedro Morillas, CALPIRG legislative director. “As home to the tech industry, it’s disappointing and embarrassing that California is not only lagging behind, but actively moving in the wrong direction when it comes to keeping pace with current online transparency standards.”

CalPIRG contends states that created or improved their online transparency have typically done so with little upfront cost; a site recently taken down in California had cost just $21,000 a year.

Posted on Monday, March 19th, 2012
Under: Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

The exclusive Q&A with Chuck Quackenbush

In writing today’s story about disgraced former California politicians, I reached out to former Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush, who resigned in 2000 amid talk of impeachment – and he answered.

Chuck QuackenbushFor any who don’t recall, Quackenbush was a rising Republican star, in his second term as Insurance Commissioner after eight years in the Assembly. But eyebrows climbed when he transferred $565,000 — much of which came from insurers he regulated — from his campaign into his wife’s failed state Senate run, so she could use some of the money to repay herself cash she had loaned her campaign. Then the Legislature began probing his practice of dropping investigations against insurers who’d mishandled claims from 1994’s Northridge quake if they paid into “educational foundations” he created; he was accused of using foundation funds for political self-promotion. Forsaken by fellow Republicans, he resigned in June 2000, a day before he was to testify to the Assembly.

Click here for the account of his resignation by the Los Angeles Times, which had done the stories that sparked the investigations; click here for a chronology of events provided by the Insurance Journal.

A sheriff’s deputy in Lee County, Fla., since June 2005, Quackenbush responded to several questions via e-mail last week.

1.) What made you choose to resign? Do you regret having done so?
“The Republicans in the Legislature were afraid and caved to the media frenzy. The Leadership would not stand with me and give me the support I needed to get the time to change the template of the story with the facts. It is the enduring weakness of the Republican party that they will allow themselves to be picked off at will like this and not stand together. When your political allies desert you under fire, even firing on you in order to gain transitory media favor, you have nowhere to go. I regret I had no other choice at the time. My experience is in marked contrast to what happens when allegations are raised about a Democrat. Everybody circles the wagons and gives the person the benefit of the doubt letting things sort themselves out. The Kevin Shelly controversy is a case in point.”

2.) In retrospect, do you believe there were any problems with the establishment and operation of the education foundations that were at the center of the accusations against you? Are there things you’d have done differently?
“The foundations were designed to be an innovative and efficient way to address two priorities of my second term: reaching out to underserved communities along with educating and informing the public about insurance. The one thing I would change would have been to monitor and direct disbursement of funds more closely. My style was to delegate significant responsibilities to subordinates. That practice had always served me well and I had been persuaded (wrongly) there would be trouble if it was perceived I was directing independent foundations. It set up an opportunity for a trusted subordinate to grossly mismanage the operations and steal. I would advise any elected official to very closely monitor the flow of any funds associated with their name. You cannot disassociate your self from it when things go awry.”

Chuck Quackenbush in happier times, with Newt Gingrich (from chuckquackenbush.org)

3.)How do you feel about the way in which the Legislature treated you? The media?
“The print media was almost universally hostile toward me from my primary election victory in 1994. Their near hysterical obsession with my political contributions from many industry sources never abated and there was little positive coverage over the years with all the successes I had promised during the campaign as a result of implementing free market principles. Ignored was the positive effect of the California Earthquake Authority, falling insurance rates, or the record enforcement actions we took against several carriers. Obviously, the media was on a vendetta in 2000 when they learned of the irregularities in the Foundation operations. They quickly began to harmonize and basically kept reprinting the same stories. On cue, they would also jump to a new twist such as eroding Republican support or speculation on criminal investigations. The Democrats in the Legislature saw an irresistible opportunity: They had a chance to eliminate the strongest Republican officeholder in the state and make Republican officeholders look weak. They worked hand in glove with the media to accomplish both these political goals. After that, except for the previously mentioned Deputy, no investigation could find anybody in my Administration had committed an illegal act and all civil lawsuits against me were dismissed with prejudice by the courts.”

4.) You’ve started a career in law enforcement, another form of public service. Do you ever see yourself trying to return to elected office?
“Law enforcement is a calling I had long admired. It shares the same selfless principles of the military where I grew up and later served as an officer. Putting on the uniform and heading out into the streets to serve and protect is an honor for which I am very thankful. My experience in politics has helped me in the job. I believe little of what I am first told and always look for corroborating evidence. I am beyond even the old Reagan saying, “Trust but verify.” I am still involved in Republican politics here in Florida supporting candidates and speaking on the issues, but have no immediate plans to run for any office. However, the spark for politics has never gone out…”

Posted on Sunday, March 18th, 2012
Under: Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Californians help lead Gingrich’s Latino outreach

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich today named his national Hispanic Steering Committee, and two of its three co-chairs are from California.

Rosario MarinOne of the co-chairs is former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin, who served in that capacity from 2001 to 2003 under President George W. Bush. Marin 53, of Huntington Park, was born in Mexico (making her the only foreign-born person ever to have served as U.S. Treasurer) and lost the 2004 GOP U.S. Senate primary to former California Secretary of State Bill Jones. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger later appointed her first to the Integrated Waste Management Board and then, in 2006, as secretary of the California State and Consumer Services Agency; she resigned from that latter post in early 2009 after news reports and a Fair Political Practices Commission probe of speaker’s fees she had improperly accepted, and later paid a $5,400 penalty levied by the FPPC.

“Newt’s unqualified respect for and deep understanding of the Hispanic community, coupled with his reasonable plans for dealing with our most pressing issues; have earned him the loyalty and support of countless community leaders across the nation,” Marin said in the campaign’s news release.“Come November he will be rewarded by the Hispanic voter.”

Mario RodriguezAnother of the co-chairs is Mario Rodriguez, chairman of the Hispanic 100 and president of Jonathan Grey & Associates, a promotional products company. Rodriguez, 55, of San Clemente, is a former California Republican Party vice-chairman; was the Pacific regional chairman for Bush/Cheney 2004; served on the National Hispanic Steering Committee for McCain/Palin 2008; and is a former chairman of the Latino Coalition Foundation, a policy advocacy group.

“Newt is the only candidate who has the experience and understanding on how to get the economy growing again,” Rodriguez said in the news release. “As Speaker of the House, Newt created millions of jobs for all Americans. It is going to take this type of leadership to bring back America to prosperity. This will help millions of Latinos who are the fastest growing work force in America.”

The third co-chair is Massey Villareal of Texas, former national chairman of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Also among Gingrich’s committee’s “original leaders” is Miguel Orozco, 58, of Mission Viejo. Per the OC Weekly, the Ecuador-born Orozco is “an actor, producer and professional consultant who heads the international affairs practice at the Law Offices of James Roche in Santa Ana and a member of the business group the Hispanic 100 of Orange County. Orozco is also a community leader with the Lincoln-Juárez Opportunity Center of Santa Ana, which helps immigrants acquire employment, health care, ESL classes and immigration services.”

Gingrich said in his news release that it has always been clear to him “that Hispanics are amongst the most pro-life, pro-religion, pro-entrepreneurship, pro-jobs, pro-family Americans in our country. It is clear to me that Hispanics should be welcomed as true American conservatives.”

Read a list of the “extended members” of Gingrich’s committee who hail from California, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Friday, March 16th, 2012
Under: 2012 presidential election | No Comments »

AD 18 brawl erupts over SEIU’s ‘un-endorsement’

We don’t tend to get excited about unions endorsing Democratic candidates, but when a union later revokes that endorsement, our ears perk up.

That’s exactly what happened to Joel Young, a candidate in the 18th Assembly District, who had gained the Service Employees International Union of California’s endorsement only to then lose it.

Actually, SEIU California in early February had endorsed all three Democrats in the 18th District race: Young, who is an AC Transit director; Alameda Vice Mayor Rob Bonta; and Peralta Community Colleges Trustee Abel Guillen. (Republican Rhonda Weber also is in the race.) But SEIU California’s board unanimously voted at the end of last month to revoke the endorsement from Young.

Here’s what’s not in dispute: Young somehow obtained parts of the endorsement questionnaires that Bonta and Guillen had filled out – papers meant for the union’s eyes only. He was showing around his opponents’ pledges not to take money from JobsPAC, a political action committee co-chaired by the California Chamber of Commerce – a pledge he never made.

Here’s what is in dispute: Young’s motivation.

Joel Young“It’s my understanding that after making a pledge not to seek money from JobsPAC or members of JobsPAC, they are indeed doing that,” Young said Thursday of Bonta and Guillen. “I realize that it’s common in our politics to talk out of both sides of our mouth, but that doesn’t make it right. Both Abel and Rob have made pledges to people in this community and it’s wrong for them to go against those pledges in Sacramento.”

“I was happy that the locals voted to support me and naturally disappointed that their vote was overridden. But that’s none of my business, that’s an SEIU issue,” he said. “While I would love to have had SEIU’s support, I remain committed to giving SEIU my support if I am elected.”

Other sources, however, said Young is putting a respectable spin on a disrespectful act – they say he used the union’s confidential information to solicit money from, and badmouth his opponents with, more conservative interests hostile to the union. As someone close to the union’s deliberations put it, “It’s uncommon for someone to accept an endorsement with one hand and then use the issues we care about as a bludgeon with the other hand.”

SEIU California Communications Director Michael Cox said Thursday he wouldn’t get into the details.

“Our local unions did not take lightly the decision to rescind Mr. Young’s endorsement. His actions violated the integrity of our member-driven, democratic endorsement process,” Cox said. “Unfortunately, his representations here are not accurate and are of a piece with the behavior that led to the withdrawal of our endorsement.”

Philemon Abraham, Bonta’s campaign coordinator, would say only that “Rob is a very principled candidate, and that’s why he earned and maintains strong support from SEIU.”

And Pat Dennis, Guillen’s campaign spokesman, said Young “needs to learn to live with the consequences of his actions. Despite Joel Young’s spin, the members of SEIU spoke with one voice and took this unprecedented action.”

Rumor has it the Alameda Labor Council will be weighing in on this next week. Stay tuned.

Posted on Thursday, March 15th, 2012
Under: 2012 Assembly election, Assembly | 4 Comments »

Police chiefs laud those who banned ‘open carry’

The California Police Chiefs Association last night honored two men largely responsible for the new law banning “open carry” of unloaded handguns in public places.

During a banquet at their 35th Annual Training Symposium in Sacramento, the chiefs gave their most prestigious award – the Joe Molloy Award – to Emeryville Police Chief Ken James.

“Chief James has served the association as the chair of our Firearms Committee for many years and had tirelessly advocated on our behalf on all of the firearms legislation that has been introduced,” CPCA President and Irvine Police Chief Dave Maggard said.

“Additionally, Chief James fought successfully – against great odds – last year to have Cal Chiefs ‘Open Carry’ bill, AB 144, get to the governor’s desk and be signed into law. He led this year’s fight not only on behalf of our members, but on behalf of public safety and the safety of those in our communities. His tenacity on this issue is what enabled the bill to pass. Through it all he has steadfastly stood for what is best for the safety of our communities.”

Named for the late Chief Joe Molloy of Anaheim, the award goes to one who embodies professionalism, leadership, energy, and commitment to the association’s mission.

The chiefs also honored Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, for carrying AB 144. “Getting legislation like this introduced and passed is critical for the safety of our communities and we appreciate Assemblymember Portantino’s leadership,” Maggard said.

Portantino said the recognition means a lot to him, as someone with many relatives in law enforcement.

“I know and respect the dedicated men and women in uniform and the work they do to keep our communities safe and it is a tremendous honor to receive this recognition,” he said. “I have been blessed to have worked closely with the Police Chiefs during my time in office most recently on the bill to ban the open carry of unloaded handguns. California is a safer place because the governor signed our collaborative effort into law.”

AB 144, which took effect Jan. 1, made it illegal to carry an unloaded handgun in any public place or street; law enforcement personnel are exempt as are hunters and others carrying unloaded weapons under specified licensed circumstances. Supporters had said open-carry practices should be banned for the sake of public safety, and to protect the safety and conserve the resources of police officers checking to ensure the guns aren’t loaded, in accordance with state law.

Gun-rights activists have seized upon open-carry laws in states across the nation as a means of expressing their political beliefs, acting individually, or gathering to carry their weapons both as an exercise of constitutional rights and for self-protection. They say they’re both protecting their rights under current law as well as advocating for changes so that more people can get permits to carry concealed weapons, something that’s sharply limited under current law.

Some activists reacted to AB 144’s implementation by organizing public events in which they carried unloaded shotguns or rifles rather than handguns. Portantino now is carrying AB 1527, which would prohibit this as well; the CPCA supports this, too.

Posted on Thursday, March 15th, 2012
Under: Anthony Portantino, Assembly, gun control, Public safety | 22 Comments »

Nancy Pelosi and George Miller are in Egypt

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, are part of a Congressional delegation to Egypt that arrived in Cairo yesterday.

Pelosi & Tantawi 3-15-2012 (AP Photo)The delegation met today with Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi – commander in chief of Egypt’s armed forces, and the nation’s de factor head of state since February 2011 – and will be seeing other high-ranking Egyptian government officials, as well as civil society and religious minority leaders.

After meeting yesterday with Egyptian Deputy Foreign Minister Wafaa Bassim, Pelosi said the U.S.-Egypt relationship “is an important one I believe to both our countries, I know to the U.S. We have always had a relationship with the people of Egypt and we hope to continue that in a very important way. The strength of Egypt, its stability, is important to the region and to world, and we want to be helpful in that regard.”

Other delegation members include Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass.; Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.; Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.; and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn.

Posted on Thursday, March 15th, 2012
Under: George Miller, International politics, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Several Bay Area guests at tonight’s State Dinner

Several Bay Area residents will be on the White House’s South Lawn for tonight’s State Dinner with British Prime Minister David Cameron:

  • SPO Parnters & Co. private investment firm managing director John Scully, chairman of Advent Software, and his wife Regina, of San Francisco;
  • former Symantec CEO John Thompson and his wife, Sandi, of Woodside, who hosted a big-ticket fundraiser for the president at their home last September; and
  • California Attorney General Kamala Harris of San Francisco, and her sister, Maya Harris, who is the Ford Foundation’s Vice President for Peace & Social Justice.
  • Others on the long list of guests include various administration officials, diplomats and lawmakers; Virgin group founder Sir Richard Branson; Vogue magazine editor-in-chief Anna Wintour; movie mogul Harvey Weinstein; American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten; and actors George Clooney and Idris Elba. The British folk-rock group Mumford & Sons and Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter John Legend will perform.

    They’ll be chowing down on a first course of crisped halibut with potato crust, shaved Brussels sprouts and applewood-smoked bacon; a second course of spring garden lettuces with shallot dressing, shaved breakfast radish, cucumbers and avocados; a main course of bison Wellington with red wine reduction, French beans and Cipollini onions; and a dessert of warm Meyer lemon steamed pudding with Idaho huckleberry sauce and Newtown Pippin apples.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 14th, 2012
    Under: International politics, Obama presidency | 5 Comments »

    Obama names Bay Area doctor as ‘HIV/AIDS’ czar

    President Obama today named a Bay Area physician as his HIV/AIDS czar.

    Dr. Grant ColfaxDr. Grant Colfax, 47, of Sausalito, will leave his post as head of the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s HIV Prevention Section to become director of the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP), which coordinates the government’s efforts to reduce the nation’s number of HIV infections and care for citizens with HIV/AIDS.

    “Grant’s expertise will be key as we continue to face serious challenges and take bold steps to meet them,” Obama said in a news release. “I look forward to his leadership in the months and years to come.”

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said the appointment “brings enormous pride to many San Franciscans and prestige to our city’s efforts to increase prevention, ensure treatment, and support research.” She said Colfax has been essential in ensuring San Francisco’s decline in new HIV infections, pioneering evidence-based prevention strategies such as monitoring and mapping “community viral load.” The city/county’s model of HIV/AIDS care “has become the national standard, and today, with the appointment of Grant Colfax, President Obama has recognized our efforts,” she said.

    ONAP also coordinates with the National Security Council and the State Department’s Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, and works with international bodies to ensure that America’s response to the global pandemic is fully integrated with other prevention, care, and treatment efforts around the world.

    Colfax is Harvard Medical School graduate who completed his medical residency at the University of California, San Francisco. His work in studying HIV testing strategies, clinical trials of medications to treat substance dependence and other HIV prevention methods has been supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And he has been a practicing clinician at the Positive Health Program, San Francisco’s public HIV clinic.

    UPDATE @ 2:25 P.M.: Rep. Barbara Lee, who has been a leader in Congress on HIV/AIDS issues, said she looks forward to working with Colfax.

    “While we have made tremendous strides over the past thirty years, HIV remains a crisis in our communities – threatening the well-being of our neighborhoods, the health of our families, and the lives of our brothers and sisters,” Lee, D-Oakland, said in a news release. “However, at this moment of time, an extraordinary opportunity is in front of us. Scientific discovery has brought new powerful tools and created a renewed momentum to do what it takes to bring AIDS to an end.”

    “This summer, the United States will host the International AIDS Conference for the first time in 20 years – a remarkable opportunity to take aggressive steps to fight the domestic epidemic and partner with countries in this global fight.”

    Posted on Wednesday, March 14th, 2012
    Under: Obama presidency | No Comments »

    CoCo needs to fill 44 redevelopment oversight openings

    Contra Costa County needs a few good men and women. Actually, it needs way way more than a few.

    The Board of Supervisors must fill 44 slots on the oversight boards that will supervise the dismantling of redevelopment agencies within the county.

    The task is horrifically complex and the pay is zilch. But the county has no choice.

    The state Supreme Court earlier this year upheld legislation that shut down as of Feb. 1 California’s 400 redevelopment agencies including those in Contra Costa County and 16 of its cities. Lawmakers said redevelopment was siphoning off too much property tax money away from schools and other public services.

    The law mandates the formation of an oversight board for every former redevelopment agency. The members will decide how to dispose of the assets, pay off the bills and restore money as quickly as possible to cities, schools, fire and other special districts.

    Membership ranges from elected officials to former redevelopment agency employees to representatives of the county board of education and the public.

    The Contra Costa Board of Supervisors’ appointment list is massive:

    • Two people each to oversight boards in 16 Contra Costa cities.
    • One person each to represent the Contra Costa Fire District in eight cities, where the district is the largest special district. (The board of supervisors is the district’s governing board.)
    • Four people to the county’s former redevelopment agency oversight board.

    Eligibility requirements vary but most of the open posts call for a member of the public who is not an elected official and require residency in the city or district in which the individual seeks to represent.

    The time commitment also varies. Some former redevelopment agencies were larger than others and will take longer to unwind.

    Supervisors will directly appoint some of the posts while the full board will select others.

    Applications should be returned by noon on March 20 to the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, Room 106, County Administration Building, 651 Pine St., Martinez CA 94553.

    A Board of Supervisors’ committee will conduct interviews on March 26 at 9 a.m. at the county administration building.

    For questions or to request an application form, call 925-335-1900 or visit www.co.contra-costa.ca.us. Residents may also contact county staffer Tim Ewell at 925-335-1036 or timothy.ewell@cao.cccounty.us.

     

     

    Posted on Wednesday, March 14th, 2012
    Under: Contra Costa Board of Supervisors, Contra Costa County, Contra Costa politics, redevelopment | No Comments »